In Tibetan, words are made up of one or more syllables. Written Tibetan uses a dot, called a Tsheg, to separate syllables, but words are not separated at all. The sentence is terminated with a vertical stroke called Shë. Let's look at a simple sentence to illustrate this:
|I am Tibetan.|
í One difference between English and Tibetan is the arrangement of words within a sentence. The sequence of words in a basic Tibetan sentence, like the one above, is: subject - object - verb.
Lets have a look at another more complicated sentence:í
|Yesterday this rich man bought an expensive house.|
Here the first word is a time reference. Words like "today", "tomorrow", "yesterday", etc, are often placed at the beginning of a sentence, before the subject, but they can also be placed after the subject. The subject in this sentence is the noun "man", which is followed by the adjective "rich" and the demonstrative pronoun "this". Adjectives and demonstrative pronouns usually follow the subject they refer to. Therefore, "this rich man" is written "man rich this" and "expensive house" is written "house expensive". The word "house" is the object in this sentence and it is qualified with the adjective "expensive". The indefinite article "an" is placed after the object and its adjective (in spoken Tibetan the indefinite article is often omitted). The sentence is terminated with the past tense of the verb "buy" and an auxiliary verb "did". We will learn more about auxiliary verbs and other grammar terms in later lessons; for now just study how the Tibetan sentence is built.
Note that this sentence ends with both a Tsheg (་) and a Shë (།) . This is only done when the last letter before the Shë is ང་
Note also that the Shë is omitted when the sentence ends with the letterག་
Identifying The Words
For the beginner the most challenging feature of the Tibetan sentence is the lack of separation between words. The first two letters in the sentence above illustrate this. The first letter, ཁ ,is a word and can mean "surface", the second letter, ས is also a word and can mean "earth". However, together they are also a word and then the meaning is "yesterday". Since there is no space after a word, the reader must figure out each word based on context and location in the sentence. Looking up these two letters in a dictionary might lead you to think that this sentence is starting with a reference to the surface of earth. However, the rest of the sentence, its context, and the lack of an agentive case connector, indicates that these two letters are not words by themselves, but rather the word "yesterday". From this you can see it's good to first evaluate a sentence as a whole, by identifying it's various elements, rather than translate it word by word.
To reach the level of being able to identify each word in a sentence is not as difficult as it might look. If you study the grammar, memorize words, and practice reading you will soon be able to translate simple texts.